In these pressurised times it is more important than ever to know about sources of support. As doctors we are notoriously bad at being aware of our personal limits, and asking for assistance. But it can be a great relief to open up and get help from trustworthy colleagues who offer specialist, confidential services dedicated to supporting us.
This week I highlight DocHealth and the forthcoming national GP service. In future articles I will write about other services to support doctors, so I invite you to write in the comments section about other UK services that are available.
DocHealth is a confidential brief psychotherapy service offered by highly skilled consultant psychiatrists and psychotherapists. It provides a reflective space for doctors across the UK to explore problems they are facing in life.
The service is based at BMA House in London, but Skype consultations are available after the initial visit.
Dr Antony Garelick – who leads the service – emphasises that DocHealth works holistically, helping doctors understand their difficulties, whether they arise at home or work.
The self-knowledge gained through clarifying the roots of their predicament helps doctors gain greater agency. They can then move forward in helpful ways. The approach taken is fully responsive to the individual, not driven by protocols.
There is no triage, so any doctor wishing to be seen will be offered an appointment. The DocHealth team have worked psychotherapeutically with doctors for over 20 years so have a wealth of experience and understanding.
England-wide GP support service
In October NHS England announced that an England-wide service dedicated to supporting struggling GPs will be operational in January 2017. The service is designed to improve access to support for general practitioners and trainee GPs.
The free, confidential service will be provided by health professionals specialising in delivering mental health support to doctors and will be accessed through a self-referral phone line, website and app.
A network of clinicians is being established across England so that delivery of support can be in a locality of the GPs’ choice.
The service will offer face-to-face support and treatment for mental health and addiction problems and will also offer access to psychological therapies such as CBT, mindfulness, brief psychotherapy and group therapy.
I spoke to Dr Clare Gerada, medical director of the Practitioner Health Programme and partner of the Hurley Group who holds the contract for the new service.
She explained that the vision of the service is to restore compassion, understanding and a sense of belonging to a harassed and stressed profession. She sees this service as being an important foundation stone for three developments:
- Time to think: As part of the service, Balint and therapeutic/reflective practice groups will be established, both to support clinicians working in the service, and for those accessing the service. Dr Gerada hopes that this will help embed a culture in which every GP has access to a group providing space for reflection and connection with peers.
- Research: The Practitioner Health Programme has already provided important insights into how to support struggling doctors. The roll-out of a national programme will enable further learning about the issues GPs are facing, and how best to help them.
- Culture change: Some of the problems faced by clinicians are rooted in an adversarial regulatory environment. Through continuing dialogue with medical regulators and policy makers, including the Royal Colleges, Health Education England and CQC, the ambition is to shift the culture towards compassionate, supportive enablement and prevention.
The take home message is that there are sources of support out there - and new services will soon be available. If you are struggling to cope, or know colleagues who might need help, do not struggle alone. In future articles I will describe other services that are offering crucial input in these challenging times.
- Dr Jennifer Napier is a GP in London an honorary research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London where she has researched wellbeing and workforce issues. She is also the founder of Contextualyse, a consulting company focused on supporting organisations to create healthy workplaces